Just two weeks after an excellent time at Lone Star Le Mans I headed down for my third Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta.
It was a good experience, things were up and down, but overall I had an incredible time…. all things considered it was a nice way to end my year of Motorsport marshaling in the United States. I have of course still a few trips left including one International event in December one in January and one in February, but I’ll talk about that later.
To start the debrief I have to mention that I was not impressed with my luck this year when it came to booking flights and other travel related expenses. I had pretty much screwed myself with the trip to Austin booking expensive flights through remote connecting cities when a cheaper option popped up just days later on direct flights. Well, the same situation repeated itself with Atlanta. I booked a flight from Philadelphia which I thought was cheap, and 25 hours later it went down in price. Had it happened 24 hours later I could have cancelled and rebooked but that wasn’t my luck. Philadelphia played host to Pope Francis visit the weekend leading up to my flight on Monday, so getting to Philly wasn’t cheap either, and I was slightly concerned that I wouldn’t make my flight if the blocked off zones of the city weren’t opened up in time. But I made it. Upon arrival into Atlanta I had overpaid for the rental car too. Unlike the previous two years the prices were thru the roof, and the option I chose was the more expensive one because instead of tenting it in the campground I decided to use the SUV I rented. At least I lucked out with a large enough vehicle (this wasn’t of course without a fight, Thrifty refused to give me a larger car so I went with Advantage and even they tried to squeeze me into a Mitsubishi Outlander which is small, but eventually I got into a Toyota Rav4 which was just right).
Leaving the airport I headed south, not north where the track is located. I had ordered a sleeping bag from Sears to be available for pick up upon my arrival so I didn’t have to drag it with me thru NJ into Philly and then down to Georgia on my flight. It was meant to arrive the Southlake Mall about 9 miles from the airport by the time my flight got in, of course that wasn’t the case, the bag arrived a few days after my arrival so I ended up canceling the order. Instead I took advantage of the opportunity to search some local places to eat and stumbled upon Sonny’s BBQ just about a mile away from the mall. Little did I know it was the same Sonny’s that have a booth set up in the vendor village at Road Atlanta every year. I made friends with a great lady that took my order named Leslie and made sure to visit her during the race where she surprised me with a complementary sammich! It was the most amazing food I’ve had all week… thank you Leslie!
Big thanks to the crew at Turn 7 for inviting me to sample some of their spectator’s BBQ from the Appalachian mountains of Georgia. What an excellent tasting pulled pork they let me have a taste.
The organizers of marshals for Petit Le Mans: Atlanta Region SCCA, fulfilled my request to work “Alpha” at the pit exit area of the main straight, just after the Starter stand and before Turn 1. That was awesome. But for some reason the corner captain at Turn 1 didn’t want to acknowledge that my station was a legitimate station. I got a sense that she was sort of belittling it’s role and by extension my role being there, when it came to flagging. I didn’t appreciate that at all. Not sure what sort of threat she felt from my flagging as it would relate to her station, but I certainly didn’t look at it that way. I treated Alpha as an independent station and flagged my heart out because it’s an incredible Blue flag spot. Of course for every incident at Turn 1 we mirrored their flags which are a bit hard to see with the way the station is situated. I even caught myself displaying a Yellow flag before Turn 1 flaggers had a chance to put their’s out because I saw the incident happening before they did. That was cool.
My reputation preceded me when it came to working with the chief of Start. The only thing he wanted to advise me of when we met is not to take any pictures. Which I didn’t. I did find it pretty ironic that others on the Start stand had no problem tacking pictures and sharing them on facebook. So my reputation seems to be a bit unfounded, I certainly don’t do things that nobody else does. But whatever. Here are some pictures that I did take:
The racing was pretty interesting, especially where I was stationed. Though it seems most incidents seem to have been repeatedly happening in the Turn 5 region, we had some great spins and even hits along the front straight and down at Turn 1. I got to witness several PC cars bin it. I also saw the Ligier P2 smash at night time in the rain. I later got to sign the nose cone of that P2 which had my name, the message: “Go for the Win!” and “#MarshalCam” clearly visible on race day. That was pretty neat.
Though it rained on race day, I was pretty comfortable because the flag chief set up a canopy over our station which did a great job keeping is fairly dry. I also used the new wet weather gear I recently bought which kept me exceptionally dry even when I was walking around in the rain, and more importantly it was breathing enough that I wasn’t drenched from sweating inside of it. I did somehow manage to put a hole through one of the pant legs, which makes me pretty mad at myself. I always tend to damage my gear when marshaling.
Others, including the media were complaining about the treacherous conditions during the event. But I thought they were fairly predictable. We did have the hurricane Joaquin moving up the coast in the Atlantic, and while it rained in Georgia for a week leading up to the event, I can’t help but wonder if the hurricane had any contribution especially as the event progressed to race day. What was happening on race day wasn’t really racing. Most cars were taking it slow, especially those in the PC field. The Daytona Prototypes tried hard, but like the Trans Am races I attended in the wet at Lime Rock where T1 cars were blown away by quicker (in the rain) T2, the same phenomenon happened at Road Atlanta. DP’s, P2’s, and PC’s were slow. GTLM were absolutely quick, yet GTD cars were not. So I wonder if the Michelin tire had anything to do with the quickness compared to Continental Tires on everything else.
We were told in the morning briefing that the race has to last only five hours and a second to be called as a full race. But just after five hours came about, the race director called for Red Flag and we were advised to seek shelter. Luckily I had parked the Toyota SUV on pit lane across from my station, so I quickly turned on the heat on full blast, took off my damp shoes and let the sox dry out. It was so cool. I found the radio station that had IMSA broadcast and listened to the speculation of what’s going to happen next, just like everybody else. A very short time later we were back on station, preparing to go Green. But after the restart we seemed to have Full Course Yellow about every five laps or so when someone would go hydroplaning into the tire barriers or a concrete wall. A few incidents happened at Turn 1, many more happened around Turn 5 area and finally at 7pm the race director called it a race and Checkered Flag was shown. It wasn’t without controversy, I’m sure. Even I thought to myself that they must have had to re-position cars for the finish to their liking, because at 5pm the order clearly wasn’t favorable. But who knows what really happened. I would imagine this historic race with it’s shortened schedule and a GTLM car taking overall win was completely manufactured, and most fans could see right thru it. I don’t think IMSA did itself any favors with doing something so blatant. We all know it isn’t right for competitors to cheat, I don’t think the series as a whole should resort to cheating either.
So that was that. The last race of the IMSA season. And my last American race down at an amazing track that is Road Atlanta. I had a good time. I had tasted some great food, which is always a plus. But I don’t know if I have a burning desire to come back next year. Throughout the event I couldn’t help but think how much Motorsport advertising actually works, because every time I saw the Spirit of Daytona car with it’s Visit Florida livery I just pictured myself in Miami… that trip is next, and a little time swimming in the ocean and relaxing on the beach is just what I need after this!